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Rockets beat Nuggets behind McGrady, Yao

HOUSTON (AP) -- Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy finally got
what he's been looking for from his team on Friday night.

Intensity. Hustle. Passion.

And it equaled an 89-78 win over the Denver Nuggets.

Tracy McGrady scored 23 points and had four blocks and Yao Ming
added 21 as the Rockets finally held onto a lead after losing two
straight when they held a late double-digit advantage.

"That was by far the most passionate that McGrady has played in
some time," Van Gundy said. "I thought he was off the charts
tonight, just very assertive on offense, vocal, on the board
defensively.

"I just thought he was great."

The Rockets overcame an eight-point deficit midway through the
second quarter and didn't trail again.

"I know what inspiring basketball is," Van Gundy said. "When
we're dead in the water and we're not playing the way we're capable
of, I'm going to say that. But tonight we were very inspiring."

Andre Miller's nifty reverse layup got Denver within 76-70 with
about 6 minutes left. But a 3-pointer by Rafer Alston followed by a
monster two-handed dunk by Yao extended Houston's lead to 81-70.

Yao followed his dunk with an emphatic block on Kenyon Martin
that sent the ball flying into the crowd and the Nuggets wouldn't
threaten again.

"When we play like we played tonight, I feel we're one of the
better teams in the league," McGrady said. "We have to do it more
consistently though, but we showed we can play with the best.

"Now we've got to look at this and understand that this is the
type of team we can be."

Denver got 34 points from Carmelo Anthony in his best outing
since the All-Star break, but he didn't get much help and only
scored four points in the fourth. The Nuggets second-leading scorer
was Marcus Camby with 10 points.

"He needed some help and we couldn't find anyone else to help
him," said Nuggets coach George Karl.

Anthony's teammates agreed.

"He was the only one," Martin said. "You can't win games that
way."

Houston outscored Denver 14-4 in the opening minutes of the
third quarter, led by Yao's eight points, to build its two-point
halftime lead to 60-48.

Anthony single-handedly led a comeback as he outscored the
Rockets 12-4 in the next few minutes to cut the lead to 64-60.

"I didn't know what my numbers were, but I knew I needed to hit
some shots," he said. "Then I realized I was going off all by
myself."

Denver got within four late in the third, but Alston answered
with a 3 and then McGrady added two free throws and a 3-pointer to
stretch the lead back to 73-64 entering the fourth.

The Rockets got a spark from the return of forward Stromile
Swift, who scored 15 points and had six rebounds after missing the
last five games with a sprained ankle. Rookie Luther Head added
eight points and had two 3s.

"I think I could have done better, but it's hard coming back
off of an injury," Swift said.

The Rockets held the Nuggets to 33 percent shooting and had a
season-high 11 blocked shots. Denver shot under 18 percent from
3-point range, raising more questions about the team's need for a
long-range shooter.

"It's overrated," Karl said. "We can win with what we have.
We could use a shooter, but it will be all right if we don't get
one."

The Nuggets led 24-16 at the end of the first, spurred by 12
points by Anthony and seven turnovers by the Rockets.

Anthony sat out the first six minutes of the second quarter and
the Rockets were able to tie the game at 30 with a 3-pointer by
Head.

The game was tied at 35 when Houston went on a 9-2 run capped by
a 3 by McGrady to take a 42-37 lead.

It's the Rockets first win of the season over Denver after the
Nuggets won the first two.

Game notes
Yao had nine rebounds against Denver to break his streak of
five double-doubles. ...Nuggets G Howard Eisley, who was signed to
a 10-day contract Friday, was inactive against Houston. ... Rick
Brunson, who was claimed off waivers by the Rockets on Thursday,
was also inactive. ...Denver's Greg Buckner had seven assists, a
career high.